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Sheridan Smith's Hedda Gabler receives positive reviews

14th September 2012

Sheridan Smith has received significant praise for her portrayal of the title character in Hedda Gabler – regarded as one of the most challenging female roles in all of theatre – following the opening night of a new production of Henrik Ibsen's masterpiece at the Old Vic.

Described by many as 'the female Hamlet', the title role in the play, which was published by the Norwegian playwright in 1890, has both launched and stunted the careers of many actresses over the decades.

After premiering to mixed reviews in Germany in 1891, the play finally became a sensation when it debuted on Broadway in 1902, with Minnie Maddern Fiske in the starring role.

Since then, the character of Hedda Gabler has been portrayed by the likes of Ingrid Bergman, Diana Rigg, Maggie Smith, Annette Bening and Cate Blanchett, with Smith the latest actress to take on the role.

Although she had previously appeared in West End productions, including Legally Blonde and Flare Path, for which she scooped Olivier Awards, Smith admitted to being nervous in the lead-up to her debut performance in Hedda Gabler, particularly considering the gravitas of the role and the fact it would be her first time treading the boards at the Old Vic.

'I was nervous when I did Legally Blonde and Flare Path but never [have I had] a role like this that's so way out of my comfort zone. I'm honoured to be on the Old Vic stage. I've dreamt of it since I was a little girl,' Smith said.

'I Googled it and saw "female Hamlet" and I was petrified. It's not a role I'd choose to play, but since it came along I would have been a fool to say no.'

Director Anna Mackmin said the actress had taken an "instinctive approach" to Hedda Gabler, which has made for 'compulsive viewing'.

'Sheridan's vulnerability adds an element which dovetails beautifully with the psychological subtlety that Brian Friel [who wrote the new adaptation] has given the play. It is an incredibly complicated part - from line to line Hedda is apparently contradicting herself.'

Critics were keen to applaud Smith following the opening night performance, with the Guardian's Michael Billington acknowledging the dexterity required to portray the main character.

'Ibsen's Hedda was once described as a hoop through which every aspiring female actor must jump - and Sheridan Smith performs the feat with commendable ease and agility,' he added.

Meanwhile, Charles Spencer, reviewing for the Daily Telegraph, said it is 'thrilling' to see a 'usually wonderfully sympathetic actress' in an entirely new light.

'Her Hedda has a doll-like beauty and a smile that she turns on and off like a switch. Smith brings terrific poise and style to the role, but also something I feared might be beyond her - entirely credible malevolence,' he added.

The new production of Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, starring Sheridan Smith and directed by Anna Mackmin, is at the Old Vic until November 10th.

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